The surviving family members of United States Marine Corps (USMC) Corporal James “JP” Salinas recently filed suit against the City of Eagle Lake in Colorado County. Corporal Salinas died on April 28, 2012 from injuries he sustained in an auto collision while riding his motorcycle and wearing his helmet. The lawsuit alleges that Corporal Salinas was traveling on FM 1013 near Eagle Lake to his job at a Wal-Mart Distribution Center in Sealy, Texas when an Eagle Lake officer, David Lee Weatherall, “inexplicably and without excuse attempted to make an illegal and ill-advised u-turn in front of Corporal Salinas.” The lawsuit further alleges that Corporal Salinas skidded into the patrol car causing fatal injuries.
Officer Weatherall was acting in the course and scope of his employment for Eagle Lake at the time of his alleged negligence; thus, Eagle Lake can be held vicariously liable for his conduct. Because the City of Eagle Lake is a governmental unit, the lawsuit is being filed pursuant to the Texas Tort Claims Act (“TTCA”). The TTCA provides a limited waiver of sovereign immunity to governmental units in Texas. In other words, this statute allows suits against the governmental units of Texas in very limited circumstances and severely caps the amount of damages allowed to be recovered.
One of the few exceptions listed in the TTCA that allows citizens to sue the State of Texas and its governmental units is the “motor vehicle exception.” This exception allows tort suits against the State of Texas and its governmental units for negligence arising from the use of motor-driven vehicles and equipment. However, the TTCA places a cap on damages against a municipality, such as Eagle Lake. The statutory cap on damages pursuant to the TTCA is $500,000.00 per occurrence that results in bodily injury or death. The per person cap on suits against a municipality is $250,000.00.